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Graeff, Philipp; Ruscheweyh, Ruth; Flanagin, Virginia L. (2023): Longitudinal changes in human supraspinal processing after RIII-feedback training to improve descending pain inhibition. NeuroImage: 120432. ISSN 10538119

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The human body has the ability to influence its sensation of pain by modifying the transfer of nociceptive information at the spinal level. This modulation, known as descending pain inhibition, is known to originate supraspinally and can be activated by a variety of ways including positive mental imagery. However, its exact mechanisms remain unknown. We investigated, using a longitudinal fMRI design, the brain activity leading up and in response to painful electrical stimulation when applying positive mental imagery before and after undergoing a previously established RIII-feedback paradigm. Time course analysis of the time preceding painful stimulation shows increased haemodynamic activity during the application of the strategy in the PFC, ACC, insula, thalamus, and hypothalamus. Time course analysis of the reaction to painful stimulation shows decreased reaction post-training in brainstem and thalamus, as well as the insula and dorsolateral PFC. Our work suggests that feedback training increases activity in areas involved in pain inhibition, while simultaneously decreasing decreases the reaction to painful stimuli in brain areas related to pain processing, which points to an activation of decreased spinal nociception. We further suggest that the insula and the thalamus may play a more important role in pain modulation than previously assumed.

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